Millennium Development Goals

6. Development: EU Heroes and Villains listed - Stefania Bianchi

Some of the richest states European Union are doing little to contribute to the Millennium Development Goals, says a new report by three leading development groups.

BRUSSELS, Feb 14 (IPS) - As European Union (EU) development ministers prepare for an informal development meeting Tuesday (Feb. 15), the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) Oxfam, ActionAid and Eurodad say member states such as Germany and Italy are doing too little to help achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Their joint report 'EU Heroes and Villains' launched in Brussels names and shames European governments whose aid commitments, trade and debt policies are failing the poorest countries.

Only four EU member states - Sweden, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Denmark - have so far fulfilled a promise made in 1970 by the world's rich countries to give at least 0.7 percent of their gross national income (GNI) as foreign aid.

The report hails these countries as "heroes on the world stage" for surpassing the internationally agreed target, but says that the good reputation of the Netherlands, which contributes 0.81 percent, is at risk because the government is pushing for a change to allow security-related expenditure to be counted as aid.

In addition Denmark, which is paying the most of all EU states with 0.84 percent, is named as a "leading champion", but the report expresses concerns that the Danish government had been cutting down on aid spending since 2001, when it gave 1.03 percent. The development groups say the rest of EU countries have a long way to go to meet the 0.7 target.

"The other 21 EU states are still a long way off track in terms of their promise. Although this failure is understandable for the new EU member states who face major economic challenges, this is inexcusable for other EU countries which include some of the richest in the world," the report says.

Italy, which is one of the bloc's wealthiest countries, is the "leading villain on the EU stage" of member states, contributing just 0.17 percent of GNI, the report says. The report also criticises German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, leader of the EU's largest economy, for his promise at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month that Germany would reach the 0.7 percent goal in the "medium term". "On current trends, Germany will not reach the 0.7 percent until 2087, which is a long way from being in the 'medium term'," the report says. "If the German government is serious about creating a greater role for itself on the world stage, or securing a permanent place on the UN Security Council, it must now set an ambitious and binding timetable to reach 0.7 percent."

The MDGs include a 50 percent reduction in poverty and hunger, universal primary education, reduction of child mortality by two-thirds, cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters, promotion of gender equality, and reversal of the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

A millennium summit of 189 world leaders in September 2000 pledged to meet all of these goals by 2015. A summit later this year will review progress towards the goals and set the development agenda for the next decade.

The NGOs say Ireland deserves a "special black mark" because it has reneged on its commitment to meet 0.7 percent by 2007 -- a change of policy, which the groups say illustrates the fragility of GNI commitments.

"Such timetables have little value when member states change their mind on when they can meet the 0.7 target. Other commitments by France and the UK to meet the target by 2012 and 2013 respectively are also far too late as countries have made a pledge to achieve the MDGs by 2015," Louise Hilditch, head of ActionAid International's Europe office told media representatives at the report launch Monday.

The report praises the EU's 10 newest member states which joined the bloc just over nine months ago, and says that although many are only beginning to progress from being net recipients of aid to bring donors, they are already threatening to overtake some of the old member states...

The development groups are urging the EU to take positive action on three issues -- improving the quantity and quality of international aid, easing the burden of unsustainable debt, and making the rules for world trade fairer...

... On trade, the NGOs say the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which protects European farmers, continues to "devastate livelihoods" in developing countries.

"France remains an obstacle by blocking essential reforms which include an end to agricultural export subsidies," the report says. "Despite some small and tentative steps forwards, Europe has largely failed to make any contribution designed to make trade work for poor people."

The report argues that the EU should show leadership and act as "a catalyst to pressure other stingy donors" such as the United States and Japan to push for a real breakthrough on aid in 2005.

"Europe can be the world leader in the fight against poverty. But for this to happen, we need to see concrete changes in an increase in aid, a joint effort on debt relief, and steps to make trade fair for poor countries," Luis Morago, head of Oxfam's Brussels office said Monday.